Man the Lifeboats

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Photo credit: Nick Bramhall via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: Nick Bramhall via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-SA

I haven’t been publishing here on WordPress for several months. In fact, I haven’t even written anything anywhere for over a week now, and lately that’s downright unthinkable.  I spent some time on another writing platform, name unnecessary, and anyway I am NOT going to bash.  The platform is fine. Even excellent.  My work was improving because of it.  I was writing daily and I was interacting with writers and I was learning.  I was even venturing out of my comfort zone and I am notoriously bad at that. So why did I jump ship?  The answers to that question are significant to me and to my journey.  They may be irrelevant to the folks on the other platform and maybe even more so to the eight people who might read it here, but I’ve gotten into a habit of exploring these questions through my writing and it’s been more than a week and I need a hit.

The answer is threefold.

  1. A good deal of the people I was reading/admiring/interacting with were survivors.  Rape survivors, abuse survivors. People who have to fight marginalization and oppression daily. People with honest-to-God-I-earned-these Scars. I was unprepared for how intense those interactions could be.  I’m a privileged brat. My life has been safe and secure and full of love. Admittedly, I lost a significant part of that love with the death of my beloved husband, but, in the main, I made it to mid-century without ever feeling the kind of trauma, hollowness, betrayal, or mistrust I can only imagine these folks feel. And, in that I am white, educated, middle-class, cisgendered and heteronormative, and have maybe one funny story from 1994 to tell about a boss not taking me seriously because of the size of my [eyes, yeah eyes, he said; and they are rather large and dewy, brownish-yellow with a hint of green when I’m feeling impish] the reality is I am a walking talking (always talking) living breathing example of the Clueless Privileged Person.  I’m not an ally.  I’m not a Sister.  The people the survivors are always having to tell to shut up because they don’t know what they’re talking about?  That could easily be Me, yeah.   Now.  NOBODY told me to shut up.  They’re not like that if they don’t have to be. But I shut up anyway because I didn’t want to be That Person. So this one is all in my head.  I decided it existed; I feared becoming something I abhor, and I stopped myself.  Nobody else’s fault.
  2. Now, privileged as I am, and trauma-free, I still have depression and complicated grief.  (The candy-ass mental illnesses. First-World Problem-level mental illnesses.) At the core of my Nordstrom’s-variety mental illness is a terrible fear of being arrogant.  Showing off.  Being a know-it-all. And that’s not exactly unwarranted.  As I said, I’m educated.  Maybe even over-educated, but that’s a debate for another day. But Being Educated and Annoying People are the only two things I’m really good at, and while neither of them pays very well, “educated” at least has a grudging acceptance in some places, like colleges, and so rather than suppressing my annoying tendency to Know Everything, I actually have to practice that tendency by teaching people and correcting their grammar. Criticizing their thinking.  Calling them out on their fallacies and factual inconsistencies.  For a long time I have justified this awful, smug superiority by claiming that it is Good for The Students’ Learning. Maybe, but hella it doesn’t belong on a social media platform where people are grown-ups with real honest-to-God Scars.  Now a couple of pleasant souls told me reassuringly that it was Good I was keeping them on their toes and calling them on their clarity, logic, etc. (and spelling of a French expression that, because of a missing “t,” can sound like someone is complimenting the mammary gland of a female gorilla). Excellent; I hope I helped. But a couple of people casually remarked that I probably secretly enjoyed it, and that that was OK, wink. And I went nuts.  Bonkers.  My worst fear realized.  I’m an Arrogant Bitch and I Like It. And they were all, it’s OK, you don’t have to pretend that you don’t want to be like that.  But I’m not pretending.  And the more I try to tell people I’m not pretending, the more they wink. Oh, it’s OK.  Just own it.  Own your sass.  Own your bite.  Only I can’t.  If I have a trigger, that’s it. I know. It’s a weird trigger.  And candy-ass (see above). But it’s mine. And before I “protested too much,” I decided to back quickly out of the conversation and go hash it out with my therapist, which I have been doing unfruitfully for sixteen years, and not because of any lack in her skills, but because I am a candy-ass.  And, not incidentally, not everyone was so tickled with my “sass” or my “bite.” One person, a survivor (see #1 above), on having my online behavior explained to her in the third person without any names, and out of true sympathy for the pain I caused the person complaining of my behavior, suggested I should be slapped. And I’m pretty sure she was right.
  3. I need to get over myself.  That’s the big one.  There are people wrestling with serious questions about society, and feminism, and rape culture, and oppression.  There are movements meant to address the most serious situations we face in the modern world: climate change, disease, terrorism, racism, poverty, brutality, totalitarianism, fear, xenophobia, religious persecution, the trampling of civil liberties and human rights.  I know that, and the best I can do is tell stories about my dog? (The one about her bonking her head on the screen door was, redeemingly, funny, but still.)  The most important study I can dedicate myself to is Criticisms of Utilitarianism in the Works of Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle? I’m a lightweight.  An ivory tower lightweight. Other people were writing to save AIDS patients’ lives, to call out misogyny, to empower victims.  And I was writing in quest of approval of my lightweight analysis of Melville’s Use of Catholic Symbolism in Benito Cereno. (Subtitled, or, The Oakum Pickers in the Monastery.) Or, Benjamin Franklin Did Not Actually Eat Friendly Marine Mammals. Simple fact is, I can’t play in the big leagues. I found myself getting impatient with the deadly seriousness of those who could, and that’s when I knew I had to get out.  My stuff is only suited for a flower-covered journal with a little lock and key, where My Precious Thoughts can receive their Due.

So here they are.

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No Two are Alike

Misfit2

Once upon a time there was a brown teddy bear. Not a particularly well-made teddy bear, either. Just the kind you saw on the shelves at Bradlees or Ames, or Korvettes, or any of the other pre-Wal-Mart discount stores.Something to bring home to a child or a girlfriend or someone recovering from the flu. In 1979, it cost probably something around $5.99. Not much, but even so, if you were going to bring it to a child or a flu patient, you’d make sure that, at $5.99, it had all its parts, right? Not in my case. If you were in the aisle of Bradlees or Korvettes and you saw a 9″ Pot Belly Teddy Bear, Brown, that was MISSING ITS RIGHT EYE, you wouldn’t buy it, right? Or maybe you’d ask the manager if you could have it for $3.99; I don’t know, I’ve never haggled and I’ve never learned how.

Well, my sister and I not only bought that Daekor 9″ Pot Belly Teddy Bear, Brown, with the missing right eye, but we picked that one specifically, paid full price, and then went home and dug through my sister’s craft supplies until we found a teddy bear eye, brown, and she took her long upholsterers’ needle and gave Misfit an eye, so he wasn’t really Misfit any more, except he was always Misfit. Still is, in fact.

Misfit might indeed have two eyes, but they are slightly off. It looks like he’s blown a pupil, but that’s just a minor size difference between the two plastic eyes. I described it to myself in my journal that afternoon in terms something like this: “He’s looking at me kind of carefully, because one of his eyes is Not Like The Other.”

I wasn’t exactly a child in 1979, either. I was fourteen.

So Misfit stayed with me, into my marriage. The first time Misfit tipped his head and asked my (not yet) husband something, he raised one eyebrow and said, “You are not really going to make that bear talk to me, are you?”

Fifteen or so years later, Misfit talked in his voice more than in mine.

There was a tricky stretch in 1999 when we had “sold” our condo except the person who “bought” it disappeared, but in the meantime we were having a house built which was supposed to be ready in October but actually didn’t get a C of O until December and we moved all our stuff into (expensive climate controlled because of the antique upright grand piano which I am STILL trying to sell thank you very much) storage and moved into a furnished garden apartment behind Morristown Memorial Hospital so in essence we had 1) an empty condo 2) expensive climate controlled storage 3) a furnished apartment with only summer clothing and two pairs of shoes 4) an unfinished home. And then Hurricane Floyd came and there was eleven feet of water in the basement of the garden apartment and we had to evacuate and we had four places costing us and nowhere to stay. But anyway, during the storage time, the fuzzy friends stayed in big green trash bags in my parents’ spare room (and when you ask why we didn’t spend Hurricane Floyd in my parents’ spare room, we tried all the east-bound highways, 80 and 78 and 24, and they were all flooded) and so one day when we were talking about how uncomfortable we were in our one-bedroom apartment with two pairs of shoes and somebody said, in a high squeaky voice, “You think you have it hard, I have Misfit’s heinie on my head.” And I asked, “Who said that?” and the voice replied, “Everybody.”

Well he does have a large round heinie.

Misfit is back in the bag again, but due to The Dog That Chews and Has Eaten a Pooh Bear’s Face Off, not due to my moving. I miss Misfit. I miss hearing his voice.

So this morning the Vermont Teddy Bear company sent me this email, here’s a screen clip…

MisfitI’ve been crying a lot today.

Between Fish and Worm

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In Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965), the mystical, all powerful “sandworm” of Dune’s desert planet is understood to go though a life-cycle transformation from a fish-like “Little Maker,” which creates the Water of Life — something I have always read as quasi-religious — into a masterful, climate-changing and in many ways even politically and economically-important giant worm. The life-cycle also produces a hallucinogenic product, spice; sacred to some, profitable to others.  The relationship to the worm by the two major peoples of the planet — the native Fremen, who practice a sort of shamanistic co-existence with the worm, its Water, and spice, and the colonizing non-natives who sell spice for profit and fear the worm as a shepherd fears the wolf — is a not-so-subtle analogy to the various colonizing commercial enterprises of the world’s history.  Spice could be tea in India, rubber in the Belgian Congo, poppies in Burma, tobacco in Virginia, molasses in the West Indies, cotton in Mississippi, buffalo on the Great Plains, Ivory from the Coast, diamonds from Sierra Leone, coffee in Kenya, spermaceti, ambergris, and blubber from whales in the Pacific, gold from El Dorado.  Since it is both fictional and allegorical, I have always taken a few liberties with the “pure science” on which the later Dune novels expound.  In using the metaphor “between fish and worm,” I have never worried about Herbert’s actual (sometimes downright terrifying) explanation of the metamorphic process of the giant sandworm (any more than I focus on the “Try-Works” or “blubber” chapters of Moby-Dick). I have instead seen that part of humanity has always been focused on the fish (interestingly enough the common early Christian symbol)  aspect of nature; its sacred, transcendent and life-giving character; and another part of the human population has always been focused on the worm — the product of man’s ingenuity to wrest power from nature, like oil from the deep waters or coal from the mountains or energy from the wrenching of the atom into parts. Unfortunately, I read Dune when I was twelve or thirteen years old. I missed most of the important parts.  But I continue to describe myself as “between fish and worm.”

For example.

If a New Atheist of the Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris school had heard me discuss the Documentary Hypothesis in Comp. Religion class yesterday, they would have cheered me on.  Tell it, sister.  Explain to these twenty-somethings that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 tell two different creation stories with two different timelines.  Expose The Flaws and bury the superstition.  And I would have turned on them with a vicious growl.  I love That Book.  And for a moment the People of Tennessee would have cheered me; would have been proud that I was defending my “religious liberty” to assert Christian values in this increasingly secular, hostile-to-Christian, progressive America (which Needs To Be Made Great Again).  And I would have turned on them with a vicious growl.  I am not asserting Christian values; I am explaining a biblical hermeneutics based in a faith that pre-dates Christianity, in a language I can’t read and have to trust to several thousand years’ of translations into languages that didn’t exist when the stuff was written down.

And so everybody would be mad at me.  I would have growled at ninety-six percent of America.

Some people reassure me that I am not as much of a minority as that fake statistic might suggest.  That there are plenty of people — perhaps not as vocal as Bill Nye (worm) and Ken Ham (fish) — who sit with me in the difficult and subtle place between extreme views on everything from science, religion, philosophy, immigration, capitalism, the euro, security, refugees, compassion, free trade, civil rights, eschatology, and the Art of the Deal. Only a few ever tell me this, though, and when I press them — breathless, excited that I have found a fellow pre-worm…metamorphic, potential — they invariably slip into one established political place or another, usually preceded by a confidential, “I mean, of course I…[don’t want to pay ridiculous taxes/understand the need for security/don’t trust the NSA/am pro-choice] …”  and even though the conversation has begun with two of us swimming in the pre-spice pool where fish becomes worm, they have emerged, either God of Fish or Emperor of Worms.

That’s probably not entirely true.  It may just be that they lack a language appropriate to expressing the subtle pre-spice mass.  After all, I have had to resort to a freakish SF novel for the expressive tools; what are most people going to do? The media, God bless their little hearts, have only given us so many ways of saying What We Believe.  Are you a Socialist (a Bernie)? Are you a Real American?  Do you support Family Values?  do #BlackLivesMatter?  Pick a bumper-sticker, people, we haven’t got all day.

Some of the phrases appall me.  In the recent controversy over Mississippi’s Religious Freedom Bill  I heard the phrase “natural marriage.”  (That’s a lot like an artificial sweetener being touted as “all natural.”  I’m looking at you Truvia. Botulism is all-natural too. So is tetanus.) By definition, marriage is an anthropological, cultural invention.  Look. I am, as Bart Giamatti famously said, too old to be a deconstructionist.  I don’t use the phrase “cultural construct” as an insult.  It is a phenomenon.  Humankind invented marriage.  Just like they vulcanized rubber and threw sheep’s stomach into milk to make delicious creamy protein-rich tasty cheese.  And harnessed fire.  And invented the wheel, and calculated pi. It’s all good.  But none of it is “natural.”

Of course nobody thinks about it like that.  Four or so years ago I sat through an otherwise delightful production of Winter’s Tale at the Shakespeare Theatre in residence at Drew University.  And Act IV went by at an alarmingly speedy pace, and by the time Act V began I realized that they had skipped the Great Creating Nature dialogue.  At the talkback with actors and director after the performance, I waited until after people asked the actors how they had learned all those lines and what did the bear mean, and raised my hand and said, “You skipped Great Creating Nature.”  The director — who was younger than many of my socks — said, “You noticed that?”

Hell yes I noticed it.

He turned to the audience.  “For those of you who probably don’t know what she’s referring to,” he said, “there is a long dialogue in Act IV about gardening.  I suppose it’s interesting if you are a horticulturalist.”

shunteloftonandphilliplehl

Shunte Lofton as Perdita and Philip Lehl as the King in The Winter’s Tale, Stark Naked Theatre, Houston, TX, 2014.  Photo by Gabriella Nissen.

 

Gardening?

He left in the dirty although recondite Elizabethan jokes about Tawdry Lace but cut Great Creating Nature because it’s about HORTICULTURE?

For those of you who probably STILL don’t know what I’m talking about, the King of Bohemia (disguised) and the orphan Perdita (doesn’t know she’s a princess) have a conversation about what she will and won’t grow in her garden.  She tells him she won’t have hybrids.  He says, but they are beautiful. She says, but they are the work of Man, not God; Art, not Great Creating Nature. And he says but, my dear, you yourself are a work of God and Great Creating Nature and therefore anything you create is by extension natural. And, he adds, beauty is increased by diversity; by mixing the pure stock with the grafted hybrid.  (Of course he won’t feel this way when he finds out his Princeling son wants to marry this grafted hybrid slip of a girl, but he’ll be OK when he finds out she’s pure root stock.)

They never settle the dispute.  It isn’t resolvable.  It is one of the great questions of the humanities — Art and Nature; where is Beauty?  Do we make Sistine ceilings dedicated to the glory of God’s Creation or do we smash stained glass and whitewash frescoes in the name of iconoclasm; smashing false idols, golden calves, graven images?  English Protestants in Stratford-upon-Avon, led by a reluctant alderman John Shakespeare, whitewashed churches; called the Bell, Book and Candle of the Papist Mass “hocus pocus” (hocus est in corporo et…) and shunned the gravings of men.  As Perdita wanted to. Is something lesser because it was created by Man, if Man is in fact a product of Great Creating Nature?  And where do we draw the line?  Is a hybrid OK when it gives us better, heartier wheat but monstrous when it gives us Monsanto corn?  (You all realize I start the unit on Frankenstein this afternoon?) Are social constructs OK when they make marriages and contracts and tax shelters, Wills and Testaments and Estate Planning,  but not OK when they make blended families, adoptions by gay parents, gender reassignment surgeries?

Everybody still with me?

Another example.  A few weeks ago a California public school was sued over the use of Yoga practices.  The Fish argument went like this: If we can’t even say the Pledge of Allegiance, if we can’t pray to the actual God in public schools, then by gum we cannot pray to mystical weird Hindu gods and say “Namaste.”  Then the Worms went crazy.  Oh. My. Non-Denominational-Being, they said.  (OMNDB?) It’s flipping Yoga.  It’s meditation. It’s cultural diversity.  Get your Christian heads out of your Christian asses.

I hate them both.

They’re both right.

Yoga IS a religious practice, and “Namaste” does have spiritual meaning, and it does refer to a deity that is demonstrably different from the one most ethical monotheists (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) worship.  Therefore, the crazy fish parents are correct.  It does not belong in a public school.  Frankly, it doesn’t belong anywhere where people are using it merely to “center themselves.”  I compare that to a bunch of vegans marching into my Roman Catholic church and asking if they can have some of our little wafers because they look like they’re probably gluten-free. Back off, bitch.  It’s the Body of Christ.

Humor break: If Gandhi did Yoga  (best line, “Bitch, you do realize this is my actual religion, right?”)

But the Worms are correct too, because the fish parents really didn’t give a crap about they fact that people are passing Yoga off as some kind of neat carb-burning activity.  They actually are afraid of their little darlings being corrupted by exposure to the weird mystical Hindu gods. (BY THE WAY, THAT’S NOT WHAT “MYSTICAL” MEANS.)  And that’s just plain xenophobic, but it doesn’t make them wrong about it not belonging in public schools.

Oh, so you are a fish, standing up for traditional Christianity in public schools.

No.

So you are a worm, defending free expression and cultural diversity and opposing xenophobia and hate and fear of the Other.

No.

I am swimming alone in the pre-spice mass, neither fish nor worm.  I have no power.  I do not possess the sacred Water of Life nor the awesome Shield Wall of Science. I have no friend here.  I may be consumed by my own planet, alone with the dead souls who wrote dialogues about Great Creating Nature and the Created Man.  I too, like the Creature, have no mate.  Spice, it is said, is a narcotic; it can cast a pale-blue haze over your eyes and you forget the world.

 

I Would Prefer Not To

bartleby

The report was this: that Bartleby had been a subordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office at Washington, from which he had been suddenly removed by a change in the administration. When I think over this rumor, I cannot adequately express the emotions which seize me. Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men? Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters and assorting them for the flames? For by the cart-load they are annually burned. Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk takes a ring:—the finger it was meant for, perhaps, moulders in the grave; a bank-note sent in swiftest charity:—he whom it would relieve, nor eats nor hungers any more; pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities. On errands of life, these letters speed to death. — Herman Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener,” 1853.

As I have mentioned before, I Get Letters.  It comes from being, I suppose, On The Grid.  I have a mortgage, I own cars, I have a driver’s license and a Social Security number and thirty years’ worth of 1040s on file somewhere.  My father used to, and my sister still does, have some kind of top level DoD clearance (I KNOW NOTHING). I am extremely easy to track down.

<discursus>Sometimes I am pretend-scared that my academic research online will flag me for scrutiny as I am just today starting to teach a unit on Religion and Violence in the Middle East, and I read a lot of Frederick Engels when I’m teaching Carlyle and Dickens. But, academic freedom, and all. I may be a cynic but I’m not a fool.  I know what I study and teach and I know that anyone, even the stereotypical NSA snoop with the enormous headphones could figure it out by looking at my LinkedIn profile.  (Oh, see, she teaches that stuff at college.) </discursus>

So it is completely understandable that every business entity with whom I or my husband ever had any dealings whatsoever can find me.  I haven’t changed my email or my cell phone number in twenty years, or my address in sixteen. I’ve had the same work email for going on thirteen years. In a way this is good.  Businesses can reach me.  In a way this is terrible.  Businesses who have his old cell phone number (disconnected); his gmail address (terminated); his Amex Gold Card (superceded), etc. associated with some account or other seem to spend any number of months trying these dead-ends futilely until they get all completely, legalistically, panties-in-a-bunch and send a registered letter to my address: Dear Dead Person.

Yesterday’s went like this (Paraphrased for Comic Effect):

Dear Dead Person:

When you signed up for your E-Z-State-Toll-Pay-Tag, you agreed to keep a minimum balance of $15.  Your account balance has been below this minimum for a period of 138 weeks. Repeated efforts to charge the credit card on file have failed.  You have not responded to any prior notifications. Accordingly, you have been charged a $25 administrative fee which has been sent, along with $28 in miscellaneous charges and fees, to A-1 Collection agency (otherwise known as “The First One In the Phone Book Listing.”) If you do not remit the $53 before May 1, 2016, your credit score could suffer.

Additionally, if you continue to use the E-Z-State-Toll-Pay-Tag, you can be charged with violations and additional fees.  YOUR ACCOUNT CAN NOT BE REINSTATED.  Any use of this account constitutes fraud and motor vehicle violations.  You should just have kept sending us money and going over that toll bridge to that job even after you were dead, and none of this would have happened.

P.S. We have traffic camera photos of your license plate. DON’T EVEN TRY IT.

The paper on which this missive is printed is bordered with a thin green margin which repeats the word IMPORTANT over and over; IMPORTANT IMPORTANT IMPORTANT.

Death by a thousand paper cuts.

Three years.  Three.  Years.

I would prefer not to. Anymore.

Get Off of My Lawn

DANDELION

Before there were viral memes in social media, there were much slower-paced, smaller-focused “e-mail stories” – funny tales; “pass this on to someone you love” kind of content, often with a down-home, good-old-fashioned American values quality that made people press the Forward button.

Now, I’m a reader. There isn’t anything I don’t read. I don’t believe in “tl;dr.” I read them. I never forward them. If I have an opinion that I want to share, I’ll compose my own narrative, thank you. However, some of those stories actually stayed in my possession in one form or another – I adapted one about God and St. Francis having a discussion about the absurdity of suburban lawns as a wall hanging for myself, the year that my neighbors launched a “Let’s scare the over-educated depressive by threatening her dog because her failure to use herbicides leads to dandelions on MY LAWN” campaign. And “Lessons from Geese,” although overused, is still a favorite; I will re-read it and I will share its message (though rarely its actual text) with others. (Notice: no link. All existing internet versions of it seem to me to be missing something from the way it was originally told me.)

Today I got another one. They are rare in my mail now, because they are almost comically, stereotypically, the province of the AARP set (which of course I have now entered). However, as the baby of my family, daughter of the baby of her family, I am related to many members of this set. They don’t “Facebook.” They don’t blog. They’re far too frugal to use US postage for frivolities (heavily-underlined birthday cards are not frivolities). But they do e-mail. So today I got one. I love the person who sent it to me and the person who sent it to her. Let’s get that on the record first. However, I am undeniably aching and sad now that I have read it. It contains this passage – I have no author to cite; no attribution, and I am sorry, but I must quote verbatim:

I wasn’t sure how my customers would react to Stevie…He was short, a little dumpy with the smooth facial features and thick-tongued speech of Down’s Syndrome. I wasn’t worried about most of my trucker customers because truckers don’t generally care who buses tables as long as the meatloaf platter is good and the pies are homemade. …The ones who concerned me were the mouthy college kids traveling to school; the yuppie snobs who secretly polish their silverware with their napkins for fear of catching some dreaded ‘truck stop germ’; the pairs of white-shirted business men on expense accounts who think every truck stop waitress wants to be flirted with. I knew those people would be uncomfortable around Stevie so I closely watched him for the first few weeks.

Two days ago I was driving one of my mouthy college kids home from school. Her family life is challenging, but she is often laughing; a bright, unforced laugh of genuine delight. I knew her three weeks before I was brave enough to ask her if she was laughing at me or merely near me. Turns out she was taught, by her plain-spoken, hard-working mother, an employee in the social services field, that finding joy even in the hard times is a good road to peace. They don’t have a lot of money and (obviously) they don’t have a car. Circumstances beyond their control, that could have happened, and do happen, to everybody around here, have kept them from becoming what our narrator so glibly refers to as “yuppie snobs.” And the fact that it is a single parent household, run by a woman, prevents that woman from matching the definition of a “white-shirted business m[a]n.”

Yuppie Snobs? Business Men?

Mouthy College Kids?

So we were driving home from school. She’s crashing with me Mondays through Thursdays until the car situation gets resolved; because The Bus (yes, America, I said that in the singular) doesn’t run from her home to our school; she could change to The Other Bus, but The Bus and The Other Bus are not synchronized, and, as you can tell from the number of them (one each) there isn’t Another to Catch Later.

A driver in a very large, very loud, very un-muffled black pickup (I don’t know the make and model; and I don’t care) felt like tailgating me. I attribute motive even though I was not inside driver’s head. I base motive on the fact that I was going 40 down a road marked Speed Limit 40, a winding road (Welcome to Warren County; straight roads would be an indication of a bend in the time-space continuum) and a steep road (Welcome to Warren County; the hills have names) and the grill of this Truck, gleaming chrome like horizontal teeth, like a wide receiver’s mask, flashing in the early evening light, entirely occupied my rear view mirror. I instinctively slowed. The Truck’s engine growled as the driver downshifted. I signaled and slid to the shoulder; caught my breath as it roared past.

Rude? Yes, but so what. Dangerous? That’s more to the point, but still, I am a competent driver with thirty-five years of experience; I handled it just fine; safely. Mouthy college kid was more scared than I was but that’s normal; three years’ experience to my thirty-five. Stereotypical? Not in the least. Pickup trucks travel the windy, steep Warren County roads in legion and manage not to tailgate me or roar past me on a daily basis, even when I am stupid and go forty.

I deliberately did not make any assumptions about sex of driver, race of driver, age of driver, or even attitude of driver. It is just possible that driver really was in a terrible, possibly even life-altering, hurry. Driver’s method of letting me know that left something to be desired, I will grant you; and since we are not in a court of law I will admit that I assume there was some malice, or meanness, in scaring me even if driver’s reasons for hurry were sound, even valid.

Stupid truck driver.

Mouthy college kid.

Overeducated yuppie who, having just gotten through a weekend of four people giving each other germs and subsequently reversing the normal digestive processes in a house with three toilets, likes clean forks.

Business [wo]man who happened to be wearing a white blouse.

I live, breathe, eat, sleep, college kids. I feed, educate, chastise, advise, and love college kids. I married a business man in a white shirt (monogrammed cuffs, too; you wanna make something out of it? Nineteen-inch neck and thirty-eight-inch waist meant custom-made shirts, and monogramming was free, so there. Ha.) I have a Master’s Degree, the Yuppie Enrollment Certificate. I spell better than most truck-stop waitresses, but beyond that offer no superiority in form or function. This may be just a personal thing; an overly-sensitive woe-is-me thing, but I nearly cried at the thought that old people I loved were passing around an e-mail that contained barely-concealed prejudice against college kids and clean people with jobs – assuming their sympathy, empathy, Christian charity, whatever – was inferior to Truckers’. Inevitably, demonstrably, even dangerously inferior. Me. The white-shirted bleeding heart who never met a marginalized group she didn’t want to defend against hate, bullying, and oppression. Who once went over a dining room table at one member of the e-mail’s delivery list because of a casual comment about “Mexicans” while my white-shirted monogrammed business man held on to me and begged me, out of love and Christian charity, not to make a scene.

I ache at the thought that my education, the very thing that made me the compassionate person I am today by opening my heart and mind to the history, wisdom and literature of the human experience, makes me more likely, in some people’s eyes, of bullying or abusing a mentally challenged person. That my job, or my shirt, or my dislike of grease stains, makes me a more heartless, cold, and ungenerous person than a Trucker. I could fling those assumptions back if I liked, at a community of people not well-known for their tolerance of any nature of non-white men. Still and all, I’m going to breathe deeply and assume that the truck driver on Brass Castle Road really had to make a doctor’s appointment at 6 pm.